Have hook will travel

You may remember that one of my goals in 2017 was to meet up with friends I have made here and through other social media channels. Having a target gave me focus and so I easily reached my goal of seven visits – I went just down the road for some, and as far as Manchester and Devon for others. However, one trip that was planned did not come to fruition until a couple of weeks ago.

When I originally mentioned my intention, Jenny from Simply Hooked commented that she’d love to meet up, but that she lives in such a remote part of the UK it seemed unlikely. Never being one to shy away from a challenge, I started looking at the possibility of organising a trip and it wasn’t too long before advice had been sought and bookings made. The advice was ‘come in May before the midges and children appear’. However, it was too late for 2017, so it had to be 2018.

So, earlier this month, we set off for the west coast of Scotland, stopping on the way to visit New Lanark for a few days and buy a little bit of wool – you get a discount if you are staying at the hotel, so it would have been churlish not to.


Beautiful New Lanark and the River Clyde

After staying for three nights, we continued our journey, arriving at our final destination to beautiful weather. Jenny and George kindly provided lunch the following day, and the weather was obligingly good enough for us to enjoy the sun and company in their garden.


Sunshine and smiles

Later in the week we visited the little art gallery in the village and I was able to snuggle some of the beautiful crochet that Jenny has for sale there:


Isn’t it lovely?

Sadly we were only there for a week, but we plan to return. More on the beauty of Scotland in later posts.

Three Things Thursday: 10 August 2017

My weekly exercise in gratitude – three things that are making me smile – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog [or Twitter account or Facebook page or diary or life in general] with happiness. This week, it’s all about the future…

Happy memories of past holidays – looking forward to making more

First, holiday planning. I’m currently in the process of sorting out some trips away over the next nine months (I do like to plan ahead), including a holiday to Scotland next year that will involve seeing another blog-writing friend who I’ve never managed to meet in person before. The trip is also going to include a visit to New Lanark – a place I’ve wanted to go for several years. Although the planning is time-consuming, the anticipation is really making me smile.

Soon there will be shelves here

Second, getting organised. Tim is due to arrive tomorrow to install the shelves above the new cabinets in the kitchen. This will mean that all the cookery books can come out of my work room, and I can clear my work table of all the sewing things that have accumulated there because their shelf-space is otherwise occupied. It will be good to be able to use my sewing machines again… especially looking at my  (lack of) progress on the sewing-related items on my 17 for 2017 list. I’ve alrerady started filling the new cupboards in the kitchen, but I can’t really get them sorted out and everything in its new home until all the work is complete.

Looking forward to seeing these two soon

Third, meeting people. Over the next six weeks I have all sorts of get-togethers arranged, from a birthday tea party on Saturday, to teaching a friend to use WordPress; from a family lunch to a big Sixty Million Trebles meet-up in Birmingham in September; not to mention a training course with some smallholder friends and my monthly shared lunch with some of my permaculture pals. Writing this, I realise that all these events involve food in one form or another, so I’m doubly happy.

I know that I should enjoy the present (and I do), but it’s lovely to have so many good things to look forward to. Do you have any plans that are making you smile this week?


Emily of Nerd in the Brain originally created Three Things Thursday, but it’s now being hosted by Natalie of There She Goes.

Off on holiday… the people

Travelling around the UK on our holiday presented us with the opportunity  to visit people as well as places. West Wales is relatively inaccessible so it takes a bit of an effort to go anywhere and folks are rarely ‘in the neighbourhood’ so we don’t often get passing visitors. Because of this it’s very easy to remain safely at home and never get to meet friends face-to-face, We decided, however, that we would make specific arrangements to visit a couple of people on our latest jaunt – one a very old friend and one a blog friend who I’d never met in person before.


A little jolly chunky bag for Karen

The first stop on our tour of people was in Devon – for afternoon tea with Karen of Sweet Baby Veg. My friendship with Karen started a few years ago when she posted a little piece on her blog about an incident that had really upset her. In my quest to spread happiness, I decided to cheer her up by making her a gift. I set to with my crochet hook and, using some lovely yarn I had left over from another project, I made her a bag. In the post it went and was duly delivered… and thus a friendship was born. I have been itching to meet Karen and see her garden ever since then and the fact that we would be passing within a few miles of her front door was an opportunity not to be missed.



Arrangements were made and we turned up on her doorstep on a glorious afternoon. Her garden did not disappoint – she apologised for the state of it, but to me it was just delightful (and so much tidier than mine!). We sat outside and chatted. Then we sat outside some more, but this time with tea and cake, and chatted some more, and laughed and talked and laughed. If you’d been watching us, you would never have guessed that we’d never met before. In fact, I’m sorry to say, that we got so carried away with chatting, that I completely forgot to take any photos! So, if you want to see Karen’s garden, you’ll just have to visit her blog. I also want to give special mention to the Ombre Cake that she made and served. In fact, it was so good that she gave us the remainder to take away with us… we ate it with Cornish clotted cream and strawberries. Please excuse the poor photo, but we were in a hurry to have another slice!

A Zwartbles Ewe – Credit: By Earthernware (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

An afternoon really wasn’t enough time, but eventually we had to progress on and so we left Karen and made our way down to our base in Cornwall for the week. As the days went by and we visited Heligan and Eden, I posted some pictures on Facebook and as a result, got another invitation. When you meet people via social networking it’s easy to forget their ‘real’ geographical location, so when I got a couple of comments from people to the effect ‘you are in our neck of the woods’ the opportunity to see one of them for tea and (more) cake was too good to pass up. I met Val as a result of doing my diploma in applied permaculture design and most of our interaction has been via Facebook, although we have met a couple of times at permaculture events. Val is my go-to-person for advice on livestock in general and yarn production (from the sheep to the shop) in particular. After a few years without sheep, she’s now keeping Zwartbles and so we had the fun of meeting her two bottle-fed boys. The were excessively friendly, allowing us to have a good look at their beautiful fleeces in situ, so to speak. I’ve never worked with it, but on the basis of this meeting I’m already a fan of the wool. Val has promised me some yarn when she’s got that far and I’m really looking forward to working with it. Again I was rubbish and didn’t take any photos… again too busy talking!

Stream below Garrow Tor. in a SSSI on Bodmin Moor- Credit: Sheila Russell [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

And finally, on our way home we visited friends we hadn’t seen for about 18 years and who live on the edge of Bodmin Moor. They have a small holding; again they keep livestock and again we were too busy talking for me to remember to take any photos, although to be fair it was wet and misty by this time. This was a more poignant meeting than the other two, with lots of catching up on our respective families, sharing memories of folks who had died and hearing what mutual friends have been up to. It was lovely to have a real chat and see how their place has changed since our last visit. We certainly agreed that we will not leave it so long next time.

Then we headed home, with friendships renewed and revitalised. Social media is a wonderful way to keep in touch and to meet new people, but personal contact adds new depth to friendships. So, now we’ve managed the logistics of a trip like this once (and it did take some organising), we must do it again… perhaps heading north next time…


Off on holiday… the places (3)

The final place that I want to introduce you to that we visited on our holiday was The Eden Project. Again, it was somewhere that I had wanted to visit for ages, being a combination of educational project and gardens, plus all the pictures make it look spectacular. It was created in a huge, disused china clay pit and was the idea as the same man, Tim Smit, who was there at the beginning of the restoration of Heligan. They claim to have ‘the largest rainforest in captivity’ within their geodesic domes and the whole project seems to be based on superlatives. If you want to know about the history of the project, there’s lots to see and read on their web site; do check it out.

We loved seeing the Mediterranean and rainforest plants – a few of which, like the Coco de Mer, we had seen in their native habitats – but in fact the outdoor plantings were a joy too. It was great to see gentle education in the form of information boards and interactive displays as well as the groups of school children engaged in a whole range of activities. The project is about much more than plants – it highlights all sorts of aspects of caring for the environment from conserving habitats to reducing consumption… all in all a project after my own heart.

It’s such a big and diverse site that even spending two days there, as we did, was not really enough. Like Heligan, we will certainly be back. And, like Heligan, pictures will probably give you a much better flavour of the place than hundreds of words…

First some outdoor shots:

And then, in the biomes:

Like Heligan, I highly recommend a visit… or two… or three…

Off on holiday… the places (2)

So, we arrived in Cornwall (after a brief stop in Devon, but that’s a story for another day) at the fishing village of Mevagissey. The place is not for those with mobility issues, being built on the steep valley sides around the harbour, but for us it was perfect.

Our first excursion was to walk the mile and a quarter to the Lost Gardens of Heligan – a delightful (although occasionally steep) stroll through woodland carpeted in bluebells and wild garlic and beside banks of primroses. Once at the entrance we decided not to venture in because we wanted to spend a whole day there and time was already getting on. Instead we visited the adjoining farm shop to buy a few supplies and then returned the way we came with plans to drive up the following day for a ‘proper’ visit. In the afternoon we explored some of Mevagissey (and gave our legs a thorough work-out).


Lovely Mevagissey

It was bright and sunny when we arrived at Heligan – a perfect day for strolling around some of the most amazing gardens I have ever visited. In case you don’t know the story…

At the end of the nineteenth century Heligan’s thousand acres were at their zenith, but only a few years later bramble and ivy were already drawing a green veil over this “Sleeping Beauty”. The outbreak of WW1 was the start of the estate’s demise as its workforce went off to fight in the trenches; many sadly never to return.

… the gardens and land at Heligan were never sold or developed. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970s that Heligan House itself was eventually sold and split into private apartments.

After decades of neglect, the devastating hurricane of 1990 should have consigned the now lost gardens to a footnote in history…

Heligan Website

In fact, the storm encouraged Tim Smit and John Willis (a descendant of the Tremayne family who created the gardens) to venture into the overgrown site. There they discovered the remnants of glasshouses, landscaping and planting that fired their imagination and sowed the seeds that led to the most spectacular restoration.

The native vegetation that colonised the garden when it was abandoned served to protect many of the trees, shrubs, bamboos and palms and so they are still present today. The structures, however, had been damaged by the rampant growth, but the debris was still in situ and, in some cases, salvageable. For the restoration, the focus was on obtaining salvaged material from elsewhere when the originals could not be used. And so, the recreated gardens represent the resurrection of many old and abandoned plants and structures.

Pictures cannot do the place justice, but I will try to give you a flavour of the gardens. There is ‘The Jungle’ – a sheltered valley containing exotic plants…

Many of these plants survived the neglect, so their size is quite astonishing. Below this area is The Lost Valley and adjacent are woodlands carpeted (when we were there) with spring flowers.

And then there are the more formal gardens and productive areas. In days gone-by, large estates like Heligan were self-sufficient, so the kitchen gardens are a sight to see. The work that went into reconstructing collapsed buildings, glasshouses, water supply and drainage systems, and (my especial favourite) manure-heated pineapple frames cannot be understated. What’s more, this is a working garden, supplying food to the cafe and demonstrating just what is possible with enough land and resources (it’s certainly not low-input in terms of working hours!).

We were delighted to discover that Heligan, like us, has a limery! They call it the Citrus House, but it’s really a limery. And like us, they put their citrus plants outside for the summer and grow other things in there.

That’s really only a tiny taste of Heligan, but I hope you enjoyed it. I highly recommend a visit – make a special trip, it’s worth it. We will certainly be going back.

Off on holiday… the places (1)

On my list of “places that I really want to visit” were two in Cornwall: The Lost Gardens of Heligan and The Eden Project. In fact they are within a few miles of each other. Thus, we decided that a week in Cornwall would allow us to visit both and to do a few other things too. However, when you set off from west Wales, you want to pack in as much as possible, so we decided to bolt on a visit to another place on my list – Chedwoth Roman Villa. Thus, the plan involved two nights in Cirencester prior to heading down to Cornwall.

I hated history at school – it never seemed relevant to me, it didn’t capture my imagination and it was appallingly badly taught at my high school. It has been quite a revelation to me in adulthood, therefore, to  discover the joys of the subject, including visiting historical sites. A trip to Chedworth as an adult was long overdue. The villa is still being excavated a little each year so that the story of the place is constantly being added to.  In 2011 a building was constructed to provide protection for the mosaic floors and other features of one of the ranges of buildings, and these allow visitors to see some of what has been excavated without doing any damage.

Cirencester is a Roman town but its site has remained fixed. This means that most of the Roman features have been obscured by more recent building. However, the site of the amphitheatre remains, although all the structure is covered in earth and grass now. It’s hard to get an idea of the scale from a photo, so I stayed up on the top of the ‘stands’ and sent Mr Snail down into the arena:


Hello Cirencester!

I should also mention that Cirencester has some great places to eat – we particularly liked Jesse’s Bistro – try it if you are ever visiting. It even had atmosphere when we first arrived and we were the only two customers!!


Off on holiday… the plan

My birthday is on a really rubbish day – the one after new year’s day. It’s a time when nobody feels like going out, celebrating or even vaguely marking the occasion. So, when Mr Snail asks me what I’d like to do for my birthday it can be quite difficult to think of anything that will ‘work’. In addition, not wanting to add to the ‘stuff’ that we already own, I generally don’t have a big list of presents that I want. This year, however, was different. This year I decided I wanted to visit some of the places and people I’ve been intending to see for ages. January not being the best time for this sort of excursion, we made a plan to have a trip away in May… a trip that we have just returned from.

With a bit of careful organisation, I managed to arrange to visit two people – one blogging friend who I’d never met ‘for real’ before and one old friend who I hadn’t seen for about 18 years – and to go to three places – two gardens and a Roman villa. Much to my delight we achieved all we had set out to do and more.

We travelled in our ‘tiny car’, which has very low CO2 emissions and uses relatively little petrol. We took our loose tea and an infuser, ground coffee and a filter, home made granola and bottled apple (for my breakfasts), a Thermos flask and water bottles, plus cotton shopping bags and reusable sandwich wrappers in the hope that we could minimise waste during our trip. We even managed to collect all compostable material that we generated in our holiday cottage and donate it to one friend’s compost heap on the way back.

All travelling has an impact on the environment, but we planned our’s to be relatively small – I think we succeeded.

So, here is just a tiny pictorial taster of what we did… details to follow…

What I made on my holidays

Between gazing at the fantastic views and leaping off the boat for a wander round whatever little place we had stopped at (even if just for 15 minutes), I was very busy with hook and needles.

I completed a pair of socks for Mr Snail:

Arctic Awakening Socks: knitted in Noro Taiyo yarn

Arctic Awakening Socks: knitted in Noro Taiyo yarn

With the left-overs, Auguste got a hat and scarf set:

Noro yarn crochet hat and scarf

Noro yarn crochet hat and scarf

I made a start, and good progress, on the Bavarian crochet lap blanket that has been in the planning stage for ages. I bought the yarn (Baa Ram Ewe Titus) on my 2014 trip to Wonderwool, so it has taken me a whole year to get round to using it.

Currently it's 56cm across. The colours are Eccup, Bramley Baths and Filey

Currently it’s 56cm across. The colours are Eccup, Bramley Baths and Filey.

Plus I made a single sock in Schoeller + Stahl Fortissima Mexiko sock yarn, which is lovely to knit up (unlike the Noro, which I was not impressed with):

One less-than subtle sock with the completed Noro pair

One less-than-subtle sock (shade 9070) with the completed Noro pair

I really must make the second sock, otherwise Mr Snail will have to hop!

Since we got back, I’ve been looking at patterns for my Norwegian yarn and I thought I might try this one… these will be for me, as Mr Snail has had a pair and  half out of the holiday already!!

A roof for all seasons

Denmark Farm, where I teach and am a trustee, has had new accommodation constructed. The building was designed to be ecologically friendly, use natural and local materials and it has a Sedum roof

The plants arrived on rolls:

sedum rollTo be laid on the prepared roof like a carpet

under constructionAnd become established over the spring

new green roof establishingBefore being covered with snow

in the snow

And then flowering prolifically in the summer

summer sun

Over the months I have enjoyed seeing how this beautiful feature changes and complements the turning of the seasons:

winter branchessummer branchesflowering branchAnd even now, towards the end of the year, it continues to enhance the building. In the mist

hazy autumnAnd reflecting the light on a clear autumn night (that isn’t snow)

autumn night

Many thanks to Tamara Morris and Denmark Farm Conservation Centre for allowing me to use their stunning photographs. If you’d like to, you can stay under the turf roof in the Eco Lodge, just click here.

Coming around again

Whilst it’s easy to think about adopting a siege mentality when considering the challenges we might face as human beings, building communities and sharing might, in fact, be a more sustainable option. Often, when people discover permaculture, they feel that the answer to reducing their ecological impact is to find some land, shut themselves away and become self-sufficient. Quite often, as time goes on they realise that this isn’t a viable way forward… what if they get sick? what will happen when they are too old to support themselves? is it possible to be self-sufficient in all respects… heat? clothes? health care? And frequently the conclusion is that we cannot completely isolate ourselves, and some goods and services need to be sourced externally.

No one is an island!

No one is an island!

Indeed, human beings are inherently sociable – we have lived in communities throughout history. Perhaps today, though, the spaces that we find ourselves in are generally too full and we are overwhelmed by numbers, leading us once more to adopt that siege mentality: to close our front doors and isolate ourselves from our neighbours, obtaining all our goods and services from corporations, with which we have no chance to develop any relationship other than a financial one.

Here in the UK at the moment, many people are struggling though the snow (not here on the coast of west Wales, but we seem to be the exception). It’s at times like these that you might wish to be part of a community – whether it be to help with shovelling snow, jump-starting the car, sharing food or simply knowing you have  friend close at hand. Now is a good time to start building those links if they don’t already exist – what could be more welcome than a call from a neighbour to check that you are ok and don’t need any help? And once you’ve made that connection in a time of adversity, it’s likely to carry through into the good times. Offering help now is likely to pay off later… even if only in the form of a cheery hello in the future.

A bonus from the hen holiday

A bonus from the hen holiday

The links that we make with other people can lead to unexpected benefits. Whilst we were on holiday, our hens could not be cared for as usual by our neighbours (they were away too and their absence was prolonged because of a funeral), so our girls went to stay with some friends about 25 miles away. These friends also have hens, but theirs are rescued ex-battery chickens that are somewhat less robust than our locally bred outdoor lot. As a result, they had mostly stopped laying over the winter. Our girls (apart from Lorna who rarely bothers) were still producing, so were able to pay their rent whilst visiting! And, strangely, when ours returned home, the ex-batts started laying too… perhaps there was some sort of pheromone thing going on. Clearly a mutually beneficial relationship, but it didn’t end there. When I went to collect our hens, I was presented with a bag of knitting wool goodies – lots of balls of fine gauge wool that my friend had got in a big bag of mixed gauges from Freecycle. She wanted the thicker wool in the batch, but had no use for the fine stuff. I would never have thought to look on Freecycle for wool and would have missed out on this lovely resource to use for my Beekeeper’s Quilt project. Because she knew I would use the fine wool, my friend was able to accept the whole offering and know that none of it would go to waste. Everyone was happy, and there is more ‘stuff’ that has been prevented from going to landfill.

So, building relationships enriches my life, both emotionally and materially. My community of friends is not, however, exclusively built of people who live close to me. I use technology to keep in touch with people around the globe and even those a long way away can enrich my life, and people who I only see rarely are still important to me.

Janta, Merav and the course participants in the summer of 2012

Janta, Merav and the course participants in the summer of 2012

Whilst teaching I meet people from all over the place… and it is one group of such people who have been on my mind recently. These are the lovely Wheelhouse family at Karuna… a fabulous forest garden project in Shropshire who hosted a course that I taught last summer. They currently need help – they have finally gained permission to build a straw-bale roundhouse to function as living space and office. Sadly, their fundraising campaign has gone slowly… and with only a few more days to go, they are some way off their target. This project is close to my heart, first because it deserves to succeed so that Karuna can continue to flourish, but also because there is a significant ‘people care aspect’. You see, Merav Wheelhouse has Huntington’s disease – an inherited condition leading to progressive deterioration of the nerve cells in the brain. There is no cure and no way of slowing the symptoms, which include problems with feeding, movement, behaviour and  communication. In the past, the Wheelhouses have been understandably reticent to highlight this issue, but Janta has mentioned it in his latest blog, and so I feel able to write about it a little. Although I only met Janta and Merav last year for a few days, their situation has moved me greatly. And so, I mention them as part of my network of friends, but also as good people who are treading very lightly on the earth and deserve wider support. If you would also like to support them, you can donate here and if you do, you have my sincere thanks, a warm glow and the knowledge that what goes around comes around!

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